Acting coroner argues against deal with Dane

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Lou Smit

Rock County Acting Coroner Lou Smit said the Dane County option for medical examiner services would be more costly, have less staff for investigations and would result in less county control.

The Dane County model would have a forensic pathologist who is a physician conducting autopsies rather than the non-physician chief medical examiner and chief deputy being in control of the Medical Examinerís Department. With those positions unable to conduct investigations combined with the staff change down to four full-time employees, he said staffing will be stretched.

Smit said autopsies must be conducted by physicians, but the offices donít necessarily need to take every case to Dane County when it has viable and less expensive options in Janesville via its current contract pathologist out of Mercy Hospital for medical, non-criminal or suspicious cases.

He noted it can cost $1,450 per autopsy in Dane County and $1,100 per autopsy in Janesville plus separate toxicology costs which are mandatory in Dane County but optional on a case-by-case basis in Janesville.

The Coronerís Office already has a fee structure in place so it can call Dane County physicians/board certified pathologists when any questions arise during investigations for no additional cost.

Smit said arguments citing a lower percentage of autopsies in Rock County is from 2012 data when there were fewer autopsies done as part of cost controlling measures. This year there already have been 45 autopsies performed, and the number is expected to increase with higher heroin overdoses and homicides to approximately 70 autopsies when the Dane County plan is calling for 85 autopsies.

Although some say there is a lack of consistency with cases as various per diem deputies work on them, Smit said there are forms filled out which provide the funeral home all necessary information about deaths. The forms are provided to the funeral home either at the scene if the body is picked up, or are with the body when it arrives at the funeral home.

In addition, there are other summary forms which are completed by the end of the per diemís shift that provide both the administrative assistant and the supervisor with a case briefing on each case handled by a per diem deputy so information is available to funeral homes, families, law enforcement upon the end of the per diem deputyís shift.

If the county contracts with Dane County, itís unlikely the board would move ahead with his officeís proposal to one day rent out cooler space to funeral homes as well as offer tissue and donation services to agencies around the state. Smitís proposal said it would be an option to offset the cost of the future department without going to the taxpayers. The program, he said, was designed to generate revenue that has never been available to the Coronerís Office/Medical Examiner before and would provide lifesaving services on a 24/7 basis.

If the office provided for 60 full body organ and tissue donations in a year at the going rate of $950 per body, for example, it could raise $57,000 in revenue in one year alone. Coolers also potentially could be rented out to funeral homes that often are short on space.

Smit cited an initial estimated cost of about $70,000 to $90,000 to start the relocation to the basement. As grants could also be secured, Smit estimated a total cost of a three phase project to be around $250,000.

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